Eddie Enriquez let out a scream of desperation as his hands were cuffed and a police officer led him to the back of a patrol car.
“Check it out. They’re arresting me,” the Pasco man shouted.
Enriquez was one of several people police arrested Saturday afternoon as the crowd protesting the shooting of Pasco farm worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes reached the intersection at 10th Avenue and Court Street.
Police, trailing the group in cruisers, warned protesters in English and Spanish over a loudspeaker they would be arrested if they kept blocking traffic. The group of more than 50 refused to listen and continued down the street, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Never miss a local story.
Police cars were used to barricade part of the intersection, partially dividing the group as it turned onto 10th Avenue. That’s when several officers swooped in and made the arrests.
At least three people — Enriquez, Cierra Trenidad and Juan Bolanos — quickly were cuffed and whisked from the scene. Attorney George Trejo Jr. says say a fourth person was arrested, but Franklin County jail staff told the Herald they had no record of the arrest.
The protesters were booked into jail on suspicion of disorderly conduct and waited into the evening to be bailed out. Other protesters pooled money together to try and get them out.
The arrests were in stark contrast to how police have monitored previous, larger protests from afar over the past two months. These are the first reported arrests during protests since the Feb. 10 shooting.
Protesters weren’t contacted by officers when they stormed the cable bridge in February, blocking traffic in both directions for more than an hour. Police also didn’t intervene Friday when a small crowd blocked traffic at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street.
Police had no choice but to make the arrests Saturday because the group was putting public safety at risk by refusing to get out of the street, said Bob Metzger, Pasco police chief.
“We can’t have them blocking traffic. If they would have only blocked one lane, we probably would have let them go,” he said. “At some point we have to put a stop to it. They have really been pushing this pretty far.”
The arrests angered many in the crowd and a few people came out of their homes to shout at officers. The group eventually marched to the Franklin County Justice Center, where the jail is, and linked arms in front of building in a show of solidarity.
“It was entirely unnecessary,” said Trejo, who represents Zambrano-Montes’ widow and two daughters in their civil case against the city of Pasco. “It was a peaceful demonstration. The acts that were committed were not violent by any stretch of the imagination.”
Jeremy Peterson, who organized previous rallies and marched several times with Enriquez, says it’s unclear why police chose to arrest protesters during Saturday’s march and not the earlier ones.
“There’s nothing we did differently,” he said. “Everything we did today we have done at every other demonstration.”
The rally Saturday was held to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the controversial shooting.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was shot multiple times during a confrontation with police that was captured on video. Police say he threw at rock at three officers, who then opened fire 17 times on the Mexican national. A rock was found near his body.
The shooting is being investigated by a team of local police called the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit. Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant will review the investigation to determine if the officers should be criminally charged.
The demonstration Saturday was organized by the Eastern Washington University chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA, a national student group. Students from Eastern Washington, Pasco High School, Everett Community College, Yakima Valley Community College and Heritage University made up a majority of the protesters.
Part of the reason the students came out was to show other young people in Pasco they, too, can have a voice in the community, said Martin Negrete, EWU chapter president.
“If you look at the demographics and the people that are targeted by police officers, they’re (young),” he said. “A lot of these students have fear. They know they are being targeted. We are united because we know we can bring that (unity), that empowerment, to the youth here in Pasco.”
The NAACP was on hand to lend its support to the demonstrators as well. Gerald Hankerson, regional president for the organization in Washington, Alaska and Oregon, spoke to the crowd about the importance of putting race aside and uniting as one to fight police brutality.
“It isn’t about black, brown, Chinese or green,” he said. “It’s about standing up for what is right.”
Before the march started, Trejo stood next to members of the Zambrano-Montes family at Volunteer Park, saying they have no faith local police will be able to objectively investigate their loved one’s death.
Trejo, backed by dozens of protesters, gave a speech calling for the resignation of Sant, Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins and Gov. Jay Inslee. The attorney had requested a special prosecutor in the case, which Inslee denied this week.
“We are here to rally but let’s not forget that the best way to rally, or to affect change, is place pressure upon those in charge,” he said.
In the shadow of the afternoon rally, a small group of people held signs in support of Pasco police outside City Hall. The group told the Herald while Zambrano-Montes’ death is a tragedy, police put their lives on the line that day to protect the community against a man armed with a weapon.
“They did what they were asked to do and now they are being persecuted,” said Melissa Donley, 24, of Eltopia.
Organizers are planning another march similar to Saturday’s for May 9.